BY FAIMON A. ROBERTS III
Advocate staff writer
August 20, 2012
Libraries must adapt to quickly changing technology or risk becoming irrelevant, Spencer Watts, the lone finalist to become director of the East Baton Rouge Parish library system, said Friday night.
“The way people are getting and accessing information is constantly evolving,” Watts told several dozen people who attended a meet-and-greet reception for Watts at the Jones Creek Regional Branch Library. “We need to find new ways to reach them.”
Watts made the remarks during a 20-minute presentation at the end of the first of two days of interviews and meetings before the board that governs East Baton Rouge Parish libraries. Watts was only person invited for an on-site visit after a three-member special committee of the board interviewed him and four other semifinalists via Skype on Aug. 4.
Libraries must build infrastructure that is adaptable, Watts said during his presentation.
“We have to have buildings that can meet changing needs,” he said.
Watts said the libraries must build places that will become destination, and need to invest in bandwith to provide the level of electronic services that patrons demand, he said.
“We have to be able to get beyond the walls of the library,” he said, citing social media as a key tool in marketing and reaching new patrons.
“We must have the vehicular infrastructure to deliver our people to find people who might not be able to get to us,” he said.
Those could include the very young or elderly people with limited mobility.
Watts also said libraries also need to change the way they measure usage. Older measures, such as gate counts and circulation, are useful, but do not paint the entire picture, he said.
“I call it seat time,” he said. If somebody comes and spends several hours researching a project, but doesn’t check out a book, they just count as one gate entry, he said.
Earlier in the day, Watts toured two library branches, met with staff and toured the city.
“I met most of the branch managers and division heads,” Watts said.
He praised the buildings at the Eden Park Branch and the Bluebonnet Branch, saying they were “functional” and “well-designed.”
If offered the job, Watts salary would be between $72,388 and $100,202, something he said was an issue.
“It’s a problem one would hope that over time, a short time frame … can be reconsidered,” he said. “The current salary is inadequate.”
If he were to be offered a salary at the top of the pay range, it would be a pay cut from his current job as the director of the public library system in Mobile, Ala., Watts said.
The Mobile Public Library serves a population of about 370,000, and has an annual operating budget of $9.1 million, Watts said.
The East Baton Rouge Parish library system serves a population of 436,000 and has a $34 million operating budget for 2012.
Watts will be interviewed by the full Library Board of Control on Saturday morning in a public meeting at 9:30 a.m. at the Jones Creek Regional Branch Library.
After the interview, the board will discuss whether to authorize their search firm to offer Watts the job.